With a clip of scissors by the popular diva from Buenos Aires Susana Giménez, the Argentinian group headed by millionaire businessman Cristóbal López inaugurated the remodeled Dania Casino & Jai Alai in Dania Beach.
López, considered the “Casinos Czar” in Argentina, was joyful during the Thursday night inauguration, the first time that his group has expanded its operations outside of his country.
“I told my children over the phone that I was not nervous for the inauguration, but the truth is that I did get nervous for the first time in many, many years,” said López. “For us it’s important to be in this business, which is very competitive. To come from Argentina and be able to be in the United States is a great accomplishment for us.”
With an investment of $85 million, the group Ondiss Corp. remodeled the facilities of the recreational complex located at 305 East Dania Beach Blvd. Ondiss Corp. is controlled by a network of companies created first in Argentina and later in Great Britain and Spain, according to public documents.
López, considered by some media in Argentina as one of the businessmen closest to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, said that some of the criticism against Fernández comes from lack of information.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a businessman,” López said. “If you tell me that those who oppose Cristina Kirchner’s government are living in Miami, local people, then it’s very difficult to oppose something you don’t really know.”
López heads a diversified conglomerate in Argentina that encompasses casinos, transportation, oil, construction and finance companies. With other investors from that country he put together the group that last year took control of 75 percent of Dania Entertainment Center.
Dania Beach Mayor Walter Duke said the most important thing in the reopening of the Dania Casino & Jai Alai is the employment impact on the community.
“We are very excited and grateful for the extraordinary effort,” said Duke, who gave López the key to the city during the ceremony. “From the group of city officials to the Argentinian investors, everyone has been very professional. . . . This contribution will benefit our community because thousands of people will be hired, 60 percent of whom will be from Dania Beach.
López said that the remodeled facility represents the first stage of the total investment. The halls that used to house old television sets that aired horse races from various racetracks in the country have now been renovated with the installation of 550 modern slot machines.
On the second floor, an exclusive poker room has been built, besides a bar and a stage for musical shows. The jai alai area that used to accommodate 10,000 people has been reduced to barely three rows with four lines of seats that can accommodate 130 people.
In recent years, attendance by jai alai fans had fallen to a low of barely 50 during regular seasons. It got to the point that Dania Jai Alai had in recent years reported annual losses of about $3.5 million. So the financial rescue by the Argentinian group had the support of local Dania Beach authorities.
Federico De Achával, president of Ondiss Corp, said that by the end of the year they plan to complete the second stage of the complex, in which the casino will have 900 slot machines.
De Achával added that within two years a hotel will be inaugurated as part of the complex. He said that the Argentinian group chose Dania following an invitation from U.S. businessmen.
“We were invited by an American group headed by Birdman,” De Achával said, referring to Louis Birdman, one of the businessmen in the group of American investors that owns 25 percent of Dania Entertainment Center.
“He invited us and here we are, contributing with our experience in what we know how to do. And we do know the business.”